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Sunday, May 20, 2007
Moral policing in India: Vadodara art exhibition, Dera Sacha Sauda, Richard Gere, Da Vinci Code - all offend communities which start protesting
Yes, really. Seems we are all getting offended all the time. Everyone. Today it is the Akalis, before that it was some people in Vadodara about some paintings, before that it was Gere kissing Shetty, then someone in Mumbai who was bothered about a jokebook on sardars, before that it was a book on Shivaji, then Da Vinci Code, then Satanic Verses.

Mind you, these are the ones we know about. In every corner, every char-rasta, there are even more people getting offended all the time.

I mean I get offended when I am watching TV, and then an ad for sanitary napkins appears and a gaggle of women go "Ooooh" and marvel at the speed at which the said pad sucks up some blue colored liquid. In another there is an innovative pad which doesn't spread odours, and a man in the cinema hall looks pleasantly pleased while a woman's waist passes by his face in slow motion. Bloody hell I am offended!

Before that there were some who were offended by the ad for strawberry flavoured condoms. My father - I think - is very offended every time we watch TV and suddenly some girl swirls by on screen displaying flurescent chaddis. Or may be he is not, I don't know; never asked him.

I was in Mumbai for 12 years, working as a journalist. My boss was offended by me having coffee on the office stairs with fair-skinned girls. He was never offended by me having coffee with dark-skinned girls, wonder why.

When I was in college, someone mentioned my village in the Parliament as an example of communal harmony. We have a famous temple there, and pilgrims from all over the country land up in my village. The Christian and Muslim schools provide parking space and sleeping areas; the colors to sprinkle and photos of Sri Ayyappa are sold by Muslim shopkeepers, and the Hindu pilgrims take a dancing parikrama around the sanctum sanctorum of the mosque situated right opposite, across the street. When this was mentioned in Parliament, BJP MPs protested - they were offended by something about the entire idea. I am sure if you mention this in Saudi Arabia, many Muslims too would be offended about allowing Hindus to dance around a mosque.

The point I am making here is; everyone is offended. It is natural and human to be offended; If you tell me you are never offended, I will treat you with some amount of suspicion!

However, the entire idea of freedom of speech is that speech will offend. Freely expressed opinions always hurt, always offend. Speech, when self-censored or censored by others, is not free at all.

What we need to do is understand the concept of freedom of speech well. And then decide if the benefits of freedom of speech are worth it or not.

Indian laws do not give us freedom of speech in its true sense. It is pretty much limited in its nature; otherwise a man who publishes a jokebook on sardars would not end up in jail. Or a court issue an arrest warrant against Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere.

What most of us who say that something should be banned, whether it is a movie, or a book, or a painting, is that it will all come back and bite you in the BUTT! With every one of our demands, we are encouraging laws which restrict our tongues, our looks, our ways of life.

Let me tell you - the Da Vinci Code protests and demands for a ban was entirely because my co-religionists were truly inspired by other communists. Everyone thinks that if Muslims can demand a ban, so can I. If Christians can ask for that, I can ask for this. If they can get angry and their people can burn a few buses, my people can get angry and burn a few shops.

There is no limit to the culture of taking offense.

Say, many of us are married. Many of us have boyfriends or girlfriends. There are many who think that public display of affection is bad, offensive, immoral. So we ban smooching in public. Then once we get used to that, people will get offended by hugging in public. Then, they will get offended by people holding hands. Then it will be about a male and female under an umbrella. Then it will be that mixed, co-ed classes are immoral.

The way to go forward is, support freedom. If someone else's ex-pression of freedom offends us, grit our teeth and move on. Because, the way we ask for restricted freedoms for someone else, tomorrow our freedoms too will be restricted by another, someone more conservative than you.

The artist in Vadodara was treated exactly the way Christians have treated philosophers and scientists (science was often blasphemy), terrorists in Kashmir treat Tv channels and women in jeans. We don't like what you, we are offended, and now we will punish you. This is not a new attitude, history is full of incidents like that. Remeber McCarthyism in US, when everyone who said anything was a communist spy?

This brings me to PrudentIndian, and that 'offensive' picture of Jesus with a commode. I will agree that the art installation by Chandramohan is offensive. Now, what about the picture on PrudentIndian's blog? He was making a point by showing us that picture. But, do you know that even that picture is enough to put someone behind bars? I am sure that if a hardcore fundamentalist Christian sees that pic, he will be extremely offended. And if he files a case in any court, the courts will probably order an investigation into it and ask Rediff to disclose the details and IP etc of the blogger.

Do you get my point now? PI had to make a point, and that pic was necessary for that. I fully support his right to publish that picture. However, legitimate reason or not, it is still enough to get you a few weeks' stay in jail. (This is not a threat in anyway!)

See how restrictions and bans come and bite you in the back!

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posted by a correspondent @ 10:31 AM  
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